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Pioneer of the airwaves

South Boston News
Calvin King in the days at WFWS.
SoVaNow.com / May 26, 2021
Fifty years ago on June 1, 1971, local radio history was made when Calvin King took to the airwaves as the first black deejay at WSHV/WJWS radio in South Hill.

His “Mister K” show was also the first time WSHV, the FM side of the operation, aired a program focused on rhythm and blues. Prior to then, the WSHV format was mainly “elevator music,” King said.

King said he knew by the time he was in the sixth grade that he wanted to be a radio DJ. His passion for radio and music grew from listening to the DJs he would hear at radio stations around Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

Growing up in Mecklenburg County in the ‘60s and ‘70s “you mainly heard country or big band music. WJWS was one of the only local stations playing Top 40 music.” King said none of the station’s formatting consisted of soul music or R&B, at least not until King took to the air.

After graduating from Park View High School in 1970, King headed off to college at Baltimore Community College. He said he chose the school because it had a radio station. King considers himself lucky to have landed a job with the campus station.

While home on Easter break in 1971, King stopped at the WJWS studio to “hang out with George Utley,” the local deejay. While there, he decided to apply for a job.

King credits WJWS/WSHV station owner Norm Talley for having the insight to realize that Southside Virginia’s Black population was looking for a station that would cater to listeners’ tastes — although R&B is music for everyone, perhaps the most American genre of music there is.

Talley hired King to be the nighttime deejay for WSHV, the FM station.

King’s show ran six days a week from 7-11 p.m. for the entire summer. “Back then there was no such thing as 24-hour a day radio or TV. That evolved later,” he said. King would round out the FM station’s broadcasting day.

“Few people today remember that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, AM radio was more popular,” he said. That’s where listeners found George Utley and later Frank Malone and Greg Thrift, his successors as station deejays. They aired on WJWS, the AM station.

King said it was exciting for him to bring his “radio voice” to the air. He’d been practicing his sound for years, emulating the deejays he heard in Baltimore. He even took diction and phonetics classes at college and further honed his DJ skills by recording and replaying his voice on a reel-to-reel tape he’d been given for Christmas in 1967.

King said he returned to WSHV for the next three summers and during what he said were his college’s “mini-sessions,” in January. The mini session was a one-month long semester.

After graduating from Towson State University — he transferred there after completing two years at Baltimore Community College — King moved to Richmond where he got a part-time job at WENZ radio before moving over to WSSV-AM radio in Petersburg.

His show in Petersburg was mainly Top 40 music, but he would occasionally “slip in” some soul or R&B.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, deejaying was an art form, according to King. He calls deejays “the first rappers” because of their schtick. The best deejays were known for their fast-talking rhymes intermixed with witty sayings and phrasings. It was an art form he sought to incorporate into his own on-air personality, King said.

Once major corporations began buying up radio stations, the new ownership began exerting more control over what deejays could say and how they expressed themselves on the air, King said. What you could say — and how you could say it — was curtailed.

“The free-styling ways of the deejays migrated to the musicians and performers,” he said.

In 1975 King was hired to his “dream job,” at WANT-AM radio in Richmond. It was Richmond’s first black radio station. He stayed there until April 1985 working with another popular radio deejay, “Soul Legend” Kirby Carmichael.

King said since 1985 he has been self-employed. He’s developed real estate, served as a boxing ring announcer and deejayed at clubs and private events. Some of the clubs he played around Mecklenburg included Mama Lo’s in Bracey, Odd Fellows Hall, Captain Joe’s and Brown’s Cafe in South Hill, The Haven in Boydton, the VFW in Clarksville and Cedar Grove in Baskerville.

He briefly returned to radio as a part-time DJ for Power92 out of Mechanicsville. That was from 1987-1995.

Early on in his career, King realized that if he wanted to advance, he would have to move away from the Richmond/Southside Virginia area. That was not something he wanted to do.

“I always believed in diversification and I did not want a 40-year career,” King says of his time on the air. “Radio gave me time to develop other interests.”

Recently he has been thinking about returning to his former love. He is in talks with the radio station based in Oxford, N.C., 98.3, about music in recognition of June, which is Black Music month.

Still, he enjoys the freedom of being his own boss.

King says he’s not a fan of most of today’s radio deejays. They bring no excitement to the music and don’t entice people to listen, he believes. One of his pet peeves is that too often they don’t even identify the name of the song they played or the artist.

These days King says he doesn’t listen to much radio. “New music doesn’t move me.”

Even though the radio business has changed significantly since King started, he said there’s still some things up and coming deejays should keep in mind. “First, figure out your interest and your sound. If you don’t enjoy the format, try to find a way to sneak in as much of your personality as possible.”

He said his best advice is “develop a good clear, sharp sound that you thinks will entertain. Then record and critique your voice. Develop your voice and figure out what you can do to separate yourself from the others. Be great. Be different but don’t go over the line.”



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I enjoyed reading this article about Calvin King very much! Way to go, Calvin!


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